NME Radar: Breakout

Holly Humberstone: Heart-on-sleeve spectral synth-pop perfect for Lorde and Phoebe Bridgers fans

Each week in Breakout, we talk to the emerging stars blowing up right now – whether it be a huge viral moment, killer new track or an eye-popping video – these are the rising artists certain to dominate the near future

Holly Humberstone has spent the past few months opening up to herself. So far, the 20 year-old singer-songwriter’s year has been spent churning out moody electropop vignettes of adolescence with lyrics that are as self-reflective as they are universal. “People connect with my songs because I keep the lyrics about real things that are going on in my life,” she tells NME from her family home in Grantham, Lincolnshire. “I want people to feel connected to me on a personal level through my music.”

It seems that this deeply intimate approach to her songwriting is paying dividends, too. Humberstone’s previous releases, heartstring tugger ‘Deep End’ and the equally emotive ‘Falling Asleep At The Wheel’ have amassed over 6 million combined streams on Spotify alone, and she has garnered an ever-burgeoning online following, finding fans in the likes of Niall Horan, Damien Rice and even Lewis Capaldi, who she toured with in February.

Her latest single, the knowingly titled ‘Overkill’, is coloured by conflicting impulses and a running self-analysis, as its narrative attempts to balance a heady rush of alcohol with the dizzying emotions that accompany the early stages of a relationship. Twinkling synths, and Humberstone’s stream-of-conscious lyricism – a cathartic take on drunken flirtation – 2020’s version of Lorde’s sad-banger ‘The Louvre’.

NME caught up with the rising star to chat about the backstory of the song, the two year-long selection process that formed her upcoming EP and tour life with the one and only Lewis Capaldi.

Tell us about the inception of ‘Overkill’?

“I wrote this single last November with two of my close friends, producer Rob Milton (Easy Life, Maisie Peters) and Benjamin Francis Leftwich. I was in a really good headspace at the time and I’d just started seeing someone, so I was really excited about everything. We wanted to write a positive song about the weird, confusing and exciting feelings that come with a new relationship. ‘Overkill’ is about wanting to tell someone about how you feel, but also not wanting to scare them off – personally, I know that sometimes I can come across as a bit full on.”

Did you write the song in order to process these feelings?

“I’m a really busy person and I feel like I am all over the place most of the time, so writing helps me to make sense of the things that may be going on in my life. More than anything, writing is always a really good therapy session for me. Having a full day to write and figure things out makes me see things around me a bit clearer, and this new relationship was really something I wanted to make sense of at the time.”

What has made you always want to dissect such personal subjects in your songs?

“I think that being as personal as possible with my music helps me to connect with people, because I don’t think that I have very unique experiences in life. Many people go through similar things, whether that be mental health problems or break ups – these issues are easier to write about because they reflect what is going on in my life.”

Tell us more about your influences for the track…

“When it came to the session for ‘Overkill’, I knew that myself, Rob and Ben were already into the same sort of artists, including Lorde and Bon Iver. That morning, I was listening to Haim on the way to the session, so perhaps they inspired elements of the track too. We built a mood with the production, and came up with the lyric ‘A couple more tequilas/And I’ll say how I’m feeling’. We replayed that line over and over again on loop, and the track stemmed from there.”

You filmed the video with your sister at home during this current period of lockdown – how did the concept for the clip come about?

“Given the current situation, we couldn’t get a film crew together to produce a video, so I ordered a VHS camcorder. My sister took me out on an early morning run through the forest and filmed me while I was lip syncing to ‘Overkill’, but I had no idea where I was going! All I could see was the light that was attached to the camera because it was so dark. I love how homemade it looks and how rough it turned out. If I had tried to do a slick video it would have ended up looking awful because I am definitely not capable of making one!”

Your first EP is on its way. How did you find putting your first body of work together? 

“It has definitely been a journey – both lyrically and sonically, because I have been trying to discover who I am as an artist through the music I am making. I had the first track down in 2018, and from there, I knew where I wanted to go with my music. I think that it sums me up on the whole. It feels like me, and it was really important for us to take our time and get it right.”

Pre-lockdown, you toured with Lewis Capaldi across Europe. What did you learn from that experience?

“Before that tour, the biggest crowd I had ever played to was 400 people. The biggest show of Lewis Capaldi’s European tour was in Brussels, where I played to around 8000 people – it was a huge jump for me, and it was pretty terrifying. I also performed on my own without a band. I’ve wanted to keep that set up since the start because it has been a good way to boost my self-confidence by being up there on my own and winning over people in the audience. The tour showed me that some of the songs that I was a bit nervous to play actually sounded great live, and I was able to strip them back, too.

Did the way that your songs were received in a live setting have an impact on the selection process for your EP?

“I personally think if a song can deliver the same message and carry as much weight when it is stripped back, then that is a sure sign that you have a really great track. On tour, I changed up my setlist depending on how the audience from the night before responded to certain songs. It was interesting to see people message me on Instagram after a show, asking for more details about particular songs. Before those shows, I wasn’t ever too sure about ‘Drop Dead’, but it received a really good reception on tour, which is why it found a place on the EP.”

What is the future looking like for Holly Humberstone?

“I am already starting to work on my second EP, which I am really, really excited about now. I am always writing, and the sooner I can get back to more of a routine, the better. Hopefully I’ll be able to do some touring next year. I am really enjoying this process, and I feel so lucky to be able to create.”

Holly Humberstone’s new single ‘Overkill’ is out now